Casual workers may face wait up to 13 weeks for coronavirus payment


The maximum payment under Newstart for a single person with no children is $279.50 a week.

Those hoping to access the money will have to register with Centrelink and supply financial documents to show that they are entitled to the payment but will not be required to have a medical certificate for 14 days.

Mr Morrison said on Thursday he had been told it took “about five days” to process an application to access the payment. Payments will be backdated to the application date on which they begin to flow, but after 14 days a medical certificate will be required or the payments will stop.

There is usually also a one week “ordinary” waiting period to access the payment once someone is deemed eligible, which Mr Morrison said would be removed. An additional waiting period based on a workers’ assets, which can extend up to 13 weeks for single people with more than $11,500, will remain.

Government data shows only three per cent of welfare applicants potentially subject to the assets test actually had enough assets to have to wait in 2018-19.

The Greens’ spokeswoman on family and community services Rachel Siewert said she was afraid the program would overwhelm an already overburdened welfare system.

“Centrelink’s workload will increase with the COVID-19 response roll out and the stimulus package and I am very worried about people falling through the cracks and not getting timely assistance and support from Centrelink,” Senator Siewert said.

In just over a week, the government will stop processing new claims for the Sickness Allowance, which is being rolled into another allowance called the JobSeeker Payment.

Senator Siewert said applicants would have to ask for an exemption to JobSeeker’s standard requirement that people who receive it look for jobs, while they isolate themselves from the coronavirus.

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Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told Sky News people who have had to quarantine would automatically get that exemption for all welfare payments for 14 days once they informed the agency.

Some of the country’s largest employers, including Woolworths and Telstra, have announced they will support employees who are affected by coronavirus.

The Business Council of Australia and employer association Ai Group welcomed the government’s announcement, which also includes substantial payments to businesses.

“We strongly support the direct assistance to business to allow them to keep people working,” business council boss Jennifer Westacott said. Ai Group chief executive said the measures would help businesses work with their staff to “build longer-term resilience and competitiveness”.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions slammed the Morrison government’s commitment, saying Newstart was too small a payment to allow workers to support themselves and their families.

“Newstart payments are far less than what nearly all casual workers are currently paid, so the financial penalty [for self-isolating] remains,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said.

Groups from the Business Council of Australia to the Australian Council of Social Services have previously called on the government to increase Newstart.

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